Two viruses are Malaysian of the Year 2020

Over the last few years, I have been presenting my Malaysian of the Year – the person or group that had the greatest impact on our lives.

There are several people who are on my list this year, including Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and former prime ministers Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Najib Razak. Another contender is opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

All four politicians above showed tenacity of purpose. Muhyiddin showed canniness too by defeating all moves to unseat him from a post he secured after what has come to be known as a “coup of sorts”.

His government is also a contender because it is the first in Malaysian history which was not voted in by the people and which includes political parties that were expressly voted out by the majority of voters in a general election.

This has had an immense impact on the democratic process. For the first time, parties which lost the popular vote are now deciding what the people – including the majority who rejected them – should do, how funds are spent, and the direction of the nation.

Mahathir is in contention because of his never-say-die character. Even if you dislike him, you have to respect his grit and determination to unseat yet another prime minister. I salute his conviction that he can yet save Malaysia from ruin.

Talking about conviction, Najib has shown, like the others, that confidence in yourself is the best asset anyone can possess. Despite being convicted by the court, despite being found guilty of graft, this political charmer continues to charm his supporters.

There are quite a few supporters who are ready to defend him at all costs. He has shown that confidence, intelligence, guile, money and a good public relations strategy are key to maintaining political support.

Yes, even if you are angry that he is strutting around as if he did nothing wrong – remember he is appealing the verdict – you have to give him credit for courage and for saying some very sensible things about what’s going on in the nation.

And yes, the fact that some people praise him and rush to greet him does bring into question the position of our society’s moral compass. No one before him has had this effect.

Anwar is on my list because he still appears, for now at least, to be the only leader for the opposition, and we have a powerful opposition – going by the number of MPs alone. He is one major reason why the “Sheraton Move” happened. He is one major reason Mahathir was playing delaying games. He is one major reason why Muhyiddin is prime minister today. His political enemies have all ganged up to deny him the position of prime minister. That says much about the man’s influence.

He too shows tenacity. Some accuse him of only thinking about becoming prime minister. We must understand that every serious politician wants to be the prime minister, or a minister at least, so there is nothing wrong if he keeps trying.

Another contender is the group of MPs and assemblymen who hopped from one party to another and played see-saw with the nation’s political life and threw voters’ intentions into the dustbin. They have been called power hungry and money hungry by so many voters, but they have all taken it in their stride. Many of them now are either ministers or heads of government-linked companies or state executive councillors. They obviously know where their bread is buttered.

They have demonstrated that shame cannot be part of the vocabulary of the “successful” politician or that of a self-proclaimed religious man dabbling in politics. If you are so inclined, you could even claim that they teach us to rise above shame and ridicule.

Yet another contender is Covid-19. Strictly speaking, we cannot claim the SARS-CoV2 virus is Malaysian. It is a global “citizen” or “migrant” – choose your pick. But I am considering it as a contender for Malaysian of the Year simply because it has had such a tremendous impact on our lives. Strictly speaking, it is not a person or group either, but I’m making an exception this year in naming the Malaysian of the Year.

This disease has devastated lives and livelihoods. Who would have thought that a virus that cannot be seen by the naked eye can do so much damage? Who would have thought that this invisible enemy could bring even the US – the superpower – to its knees?

Globally, as of yesterday, the virus had killed 7.7 million people and infected more than 78 million others. In Malaysia, a total of 444 people have died due to the disease while 98,737 have been infected.

Of course, we won’t be able to say how many people died or will die as a consequence of the impact of the disease and the subsequent lockdowns in almost all nations. Globally, millions have lost jobs and their livelihoods. Millions have been hurled into poverty. Millions of dreams have been dashed.

Would you have imagined ever being allowed entry into a bank, or anywhere else, only if you had a mask on? In January, would you have imagined greeting someone without shaking his or her hands or hugging that person?

This invader has made us look upon medical staff, including hospital cleaners, with greater respect. Other frontliners such as policemen have gained greater attention too.

The SARS-CoV2 virus, in fact, has actually done within a year what our politicians have been doing over three or four decades: drive us apart.

We are well aware of the slippery and deceitful games played by many – but not all – politicians and political parties to divide ordinary Malaysians by playing up race and religion. There are some honest politicians who are trying to serve the people the best they can, but they are too few in number.

But the politician viruses – those who infect people with hatred for others of a different race or religion or who put self-interest above that of the public and the nation – have, over the years, tried to win power or stay in power by accentuating the fears of Malaysians.

If the Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazandusun and Dayak are divided, crafty politicians who only think of themselves can have their way. They can become rich and powerful. Their families can become rich. Their cronies can earn millions and then help finance party polls and general elections.

This has been happening for some time. In fact, many politicians – but not all – are still working assiduously to keep us apart so they can continue enjoying power and pelf.

Look at where we are today: there is political instability, our economy is in recession, investors are looking elsewhere, poverty is rising, national and personal debts are increasing, our education system is in shambles, religious and racial bigots are getting bold and impetuous, and we are floating along without any proper direction.

And now, the SARS-CoV2 virus is also keeping us apart. We are told to keep our physical distance or we might become infected.

We are in a sorry state because, just as we are losing in the battle against the politician viruses, we are also losing against the Covid-19 virus. But there is hope for a better future.

This year though, both the politician viruses and this invisible virus have done great damage to our lives and the nation.

So, I name both these viruses co-winners of the Malaysian of the Year 2020.